Safe and Effective Use of Essential Oils and Scientific Aromatherapy

September 18th 2018

By Amy Pereira BS, CHNC, RYT-200

In this article we’ll examine the reasons why Scientific Aromatherapy is such a respected and vital part of European medical protocol, how organic farming impacts essential oil chemistry, the shortcomings of so-called pure or therapeutic “grades” as well as how organic essential oils can play a safe and invaluable role in supporting both human and environmental health and well-being.

Americans are becoming ever more familiar with household uses of essential oils, yet the concept of Scientific Aromatherapy remains to be understood and embraced with the depth and passion that it is in Europe. In North America, we regard essential oils as complementary or alternative medicine while European doctors, pharmacists and patients alike consider essential oils a staple and irreplaceable part of everyday medicine. With current discussion about the presence of pesticide residues, like glyphosate, in food1 and the potential complications of synthetic agricultural chemicals2, there is perhaps no better time to delve more deeply into the benefits of choosing organic essential oils and increasing understanding of how our food, beverage and product choices affect the increasing toxic burden to ourselves, our family members and environment at large.

Using essential oils for Health and Beauty is no new practice. “Quintessential” oils were regarded as the fifth element along with fire, water, earth, and air. It was believed that distillation enabled us to concentrate and harness a plant’s essence or life force (known as Prana in Sanskrit and Chi in Chinese) for human health. Nearly 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates, prescribed Essential oils for various ailments and harnessed their antimicrobial properties to address infectious diseases that plagued the region. Archaeological ruins indicate that rudimentary distillation equipment existed in ancient Mesopotamia even three thousand years prior, in 3,500 BC.

Although less refined essential oil use surely stretches further back in time, it wasn’t until 1937 that the term “aromatherapy” was introduced by French perfume chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. Gattefosse’s positive experience using Lavender essential oil to treat a serious burn propelled him passionately forward into his work of documenting essential oil chemistry and its human physiological and psychotherapeutic applications. Today, scientists clearly recognize that plants create essential oils to ensure their survival, reproduction, and wellbeing by warding off bacteria, fungi, viruses and pests, by preventing competitive species from growing nearby, by deterring herbivores from ingesting them and by attracting pollinators. Although essential oils protect and serve the plants, many phytochemicals within these oils confer immunoprotective, stress-modulating and additional benefits to humans too. Modern physicians (Valnet, Duraffourd, Lapraz, Belaiche), researchers (P. Franchomme), and pharmacists (D. Baudoux) have successfully established a reputation for the efficacy, safety and extraordinary value of essential oils for supporting the body’s many systems.

Of the hundreds of thousands of identified plant species, less than one thousand produce essential oils and only a few hundred are used in Scientific Aromatherapy. Most essential oils are extracted from plant parts by steam distillation, but they may be obtained through cold-pressing/mechanical extraction, CO2 (or solvent) extraction and enfleurage. Because Scientific Aromatherapy principally involves utilizing the naturally-occurring phytochemical constituents within essential oils for wellbeing, it’s vital that we consider the role of organic agriculture and production. If plants are treated with synthetic pesticides and chemicals that, in a sense, do the job for them, they may not create the same quantity and quality of phytochemicals that they would if grown wild or farmed organically.

Further, whether obtained by steam distillation, cold pressing or other methods, essential oils are extracted from vast amounts of plant material. For instance, it requires approximately 1.3 million roses to create one cup of Rose Otto Essential oil and approximately 2,000 pounds of lavender blossoms to create one gallon of Lavender essential oil. If the plants are laden with pesticide residues, then one may run the risk of increased potential for exposure to unnatural chemicals. This concentration, along with the sheer volume of synthetic chemical application to the world’s fields, is yet another reason why choosing organic and sustainably-harvested plant products can help us to reduce our toxic burden and beneficially impact our world.

While words like “natural”, “pure”, “therapeutic”, “certified therapeutic grade” etc. are often seen on product labels, their meaning is not defined or regulated by any governmental or third-party organization, so their presence may be nothing more than a trademarked marketing term. Only the USDA and ECOCERT Organic certifications guarantee that a product is free of GMOs, pesticides, and other unwanted ingredients– and that it was grown, produced and tested according the stringent guidelines that are required for a product to be labeled “organic”.

Researchers frequently isolate phytochemicals and synthesize chemicals to study the physiological effects that they have on humans, animals, cells, etc. and to determine which ones may be useful in pharmaceutical medications or scientific applications but Scientific Aromatherapy makes use of nature’s medicine cabinet, as is, in its full unadulterated glory. One essential oil can contain a few to a few hundred naturally-occurring chemicals, each with its own function within the plant and in relation to our bodies, so it’s important to seek oils that contain naturally-occurring chemicals in naturally occurring ratios that reflect the plant’s innate wisdom. Quality manufacturers will have record of the chemical constituents within the essential oils they sell and should be willing to disclose this information in the form of Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) reports so that consumers can be assured they are using unadulterated products suitable for Scientific Aromatherapy.

Among the first identified phytochemicals was salicin, a type of salicylate that’s present in the bark of various willow species and considered a precursor to acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin). As such, it has long been used in herbal preparations as an analgesic and fever reducer.   A distinct, but related, phytochemical called methyl salicylate is present in various wintergreen species. Although lab-synthesized versions are commonly combined with petroleum jelly and other inactive ingredients and sold in drugstores as over-the-counter analgesic ointments, the power of methyl salicylate naturally occurs (in combination with other synergistic plant chemicals) in wintergreen essential oil. Scientific Aromatherapists, worldwide, harness the power of wintergreen by diluting and applying topically, to support the musculoskeletal system and promote comfort. For those aiming to decrease their toxic burden and synthetic ingredient exposure, wintergreen essential oil and preparations that include it, like Pranarom’s Warming Muscle Rub and Heavy Head Rescue Roller, may be excellent organic body care choices.

Wintergreen/Gaultheria fragrantissima

Another valuable phytochemical is 1,8-cineole or eucalyptol. Long-used in oral care and cough suppressant products, this gift of nature can be found in eucalyptus, ravintsara and rosemary species and is cherished by Scientific Aromatherapists for its antimicrobial and respiratory support properties. For respiratory and immune system support, these essential oils or formulas that include them, like Pranarom’s Immune Defense Solution, may be useful in the diffuser and as a chest rub, to help ease congestion, assist with healthy breathing and fortify the body’s natural defenses.

Some refer to different “schools of thought” regarding best uses of essential oils for healthcare. As an example, Aromatherapy practitioners in the United Kingdom tend to favor inhalation and diluted topical use, while practitioners in Germany and Russia may focus more on inhalation. Based upon nearly a century of modern research, France’s Scientific/Medical approach to essential oil use is one of the oldest and most developed, and involves inhalation, neat/undiluted topical application and internal use (oral and suppository). Aromatherapy, as a whole, far exceeds any sum of its modalities, thus a limiting viewpoint need not apply to Scientific Aromatherapy. Rather than view the variances in aromatherapy practices as divisors, we may benefit by educating ourselves on the different regional uses and incorporate them into use whenever suitable and safe.

Considering internal use, there are over 150 entries on the US government’s GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list within the “Essential oils, oleoresins (solvent-free), and natural extractives (including distillates)” category3. Although the list does not include amounts, it does outline which may legally and safely be used in food and beverage industry. While many Essential oils are on this list, and while essential oil supplements, like Pranarom’s Bronchial Syrup, Throat Spray, Pastilles and Pranacaps, are formulated specifically for safe internal use, it is still wise to inform your health care professional of any new supplement inclusions and changes to your health care regimen- as some essential oils, like peppermint, may exacerbate certain health conditions, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

While Essential oils and their naturally-occurring chemicals may be regarded as a safer, non-toxic alternative to many over the counter and prescription medications, there are still many considerations regarding essential oil use. Some essential oils may be used neatly/undiluted and others must always be highly diluted. Some are judiciously used by Scientific Aromatherapists for internal use while others are never safe for ingestion. Some may be viewed as acceptable for use with children while others are not. It bears repeating that it is vital to remain well-informed and work with your health care professional to determine which essential oils may be right for you and your family, to take proper precautions when using essential oils supplements, and when introducing new items into your regimen and environment.

For further information on Scientific Aromatherapy for Year-round Wellness, join Amy Pereira at Provender’s October 5th 3:30- 5:00 p.m. workshop session in the Mount Hood room. Amy will also be in the Gorge Room on October 4th at the Meet Your Maker tabletop event. For additional print and web resources, please see the following and visit the company website at www.Pranarom.us.

 

References

  1. Environmental Working Group. (2018, August 15). Breakfast with a Dose of Roundup? Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://www.ewg.org/childrenshealth/glyphosateincereal/#.W38UG_ZFyuW
  2. Levin, S., & Greenfield, P. (2018, August 11). Monsanto ordered to pay $289m as jury rules weedkiller caused man’s cancer. Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/10/monsanto-trial-cancer-dewayne-johnson-ruling
  3. FDA Dept of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Electronic Code of Federal Regulations- Essential oils, oleoresins (solvent-free), and natural extractives (including distillates). Retrieved August 23, 2018, from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=182.20

 

Additional Print Resources:

Tisserand, R., & Young, R. (2014). Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.

Baudoux, D., & Breda, M. (n.d.). The Guidebook to Chemotyped Essential oils (09/2017_V1 ed.). Minneapolis, MN.